Head always in the clouds but don’t know where to start?
For many people, becoming a pilot seems like an unattainable dream. Whether you are a young person dreaming about your future goals, or even considering a change of direction later in life, you shouldn’t be put off chasing this dream. Of course, there are many hurdles to jump on your way to the flight deck, not least the financial burden. In this article we will look at the mandatory requirements and also investigate options that might help you achieve your aspirations.
The biggest question!
How much does it cost to become a pilot? To become a commercial pilot you will need an Airline Transport Pilot Licence (ATPL). Getting this licence can cost in excess of £100,000 and will take a minimum of 18 months to complete. However, it doesn’t have to cost that amount, nor do you have to complete it within that time, so it’s important that you review all of you training options before you consider starting out on your pilot journey – a “modular” training route could be completed from £62,500. In this article, we will look at several different training routes to becoming a commercial pilot and a few other things you need to be aware of before even taking your first flight. There are still some fully sponsored training programs out there, but they sporadic in their availability and of course, always heavily oversubscribed. Some Airlines will have “tagged” schemes such as British Airways’ Future Pilot Programme, which give you the chance to join an airline directly at the end of your training, but these still require you to fund your training and are usually only available through the larger “integrated” schools (more information on the differences between integrated and modular training laster). These schemes are highly competitive, so we strongly recommend that you seek some assistance with some Assessment Preparation ahead of selection for one of these schemes. Whatever path and school you choose for your training, it is essential that you research before you sign up for a course. Make sure that you are aware of all the terms and conditions before you spend even one pound on your training! Some Approved Training Organisations (ATOs – for a full list, see the CAA website) have ceased trading unexpectedly prior to some students completing their training. It is imperative that you research what measures are in place should this happen, before you commence your training!
“Whatever path and school you choose for your training, it is essential that you research before you sign up for a course.”
Before you start flying training. If you are contemplating the huge financial and time commitment to complete your flying training, then the first thing we would always recommend you doing, is ensuring that you are medically fit enough to hold an EASA Class 1 Medical Certificate. Without this, you will not be able to “exercise the privileges” of your ATPL (to use your ATPL in layman’s terms!). There’s no need to worry if you wear glasses or contact lenses, your vision just needs to be correctable to 20/20. You should visit the CAA website for more details if you have any concerns about getting your Class One medical. You must also be at least 21 years of age to apply for an ATPL license. Every airline will also require you to apply for a Criminal Records Check (CRC) also known as a Disclosure Baring Service Certificate (DBSC). If you have a previous or current criminal conviction, then you can seek more information on whether this might be an issue for your application here.
“You should visit the CAA website for more details if you have any concerns about getting your Class One medical”
What about educational qualifications? Although there are no mandated educational qualifications required to hold a commercial pilots licence, most airlines and some flight schools will ask for a minimum of 5 GCSE’s (or equivalent) at grade C and above, including English, Maths and a Science. You will also need to have a Class 1 Medical Certificate. The CAA have guidance material on their website for those who might be concerned about this. It could also be useful to take an aptitude test before you embark on years of expensive training to make sure you have what it takes to become a successful airline pilot. The Honourable Company of Air Pilots hold an aptitude test at RAF Cranwell and they use some of the tests used by the RAF in their selection process.
Integrated or modular?
Integrated training course. An integrated course essentially aims to take you from “zero to hero” in one go. As the name suggests, all of the various ages required to become a commercial pilot are “integrated” into one course and run by an ATO. You will study full time. Starting in the classroom, you will usually start with academic training, completing your ATPL theory exams. You will complete theoretical training in”in-house” completing all of your 14 ATPL exams. Your flying training will commence in a single engine piston (SEP) light aircraft, after which you will pass key milestones including completing Commercial Pilot Licence (CPL) skills test, and then combining this with a multi-engine rating (ME) and instrument rating (IR). On completion of your training, you will hold a “frozen” ATPL, which essentially means that you hold the licence to be a commercial airline pilot. A CPL would also allow you to work for a business jet operator or as a flying instructor. Most of these integrated courses are run a large, dedicated flying schools and are almost always the most expensive flying schools to attend, with course costs often in excess of £100,000. Some of these schools have links with airlines, although don’t assume that by attending one of these schools, you will automatically be offered an airline position on completion of training – read the small print!
“…don’t assume that by attending one of these schools, you will automatically be offered an airline position on completion of training – read the small print!”
Modular training Course. The modular training route is an excellent and increasingly popular route to becoming a commercial pilot. The main advantages of a modular training route are cost and being able to complete as the name suggests, in “modules”. A typical modular course is roughly half the cost of an integrated course, which makes it a good alternative for those that cannot secure the funds for a full-time integrated course. During modular training, you start by gaining your Private Pilots Licence (PPL) including theory exams and then move on to completing your Night Rating. Following some hour building, you would normally then go on to complete your CPL and then ME & IR, again giving you your frozen ATPL at the end of your training. Some pilots choose to complete modular training whilst working full-time and completing each module when time and funds permit. Most of the modular schools e.g. ACS Flight Training and Aeros Flight Training also now offer a “Fast Track ATPL” which essentially means completing each module concurrently. In this instance, it will still be significantly cheaper than an integrated course and at the end of the day, gives you exactly the same licence in a similar time period to integrated training. We also recommend you visit UKFlying, who specialise in finding competitive flight training schools.
Multi-Crew Pilot Licence (MPL). In recent years, we have seen the introduction of another type of licence known as a multi-crew pilots licence MPL. To qualify for this licence, you don’t have to complete as much training. However, be aware! You will only be able to operate as a First Officer and will be bound to that airline and aircraft type until you gain an ATPL, which can take more than two years of flying after you complete your training. This could be limiting if you wanted to move airline, or were made redundant!
“However, be aware! You will only be able to operate as a First Officer and will be bound to that airline and aircraft type until you gain an ATPL.”
Aviation degree with pilot studies. You can now complete degrees in aviation that include commercial pilot training. You will still have to fund your flying training, although various grants are available towards your flying training and you also come out of the end of your training with a BSc (Hons) degree as well as your commercial pilots licence, which could be extremely useful if the pilot job market is weak when you qualify – options!
“A degree could be extremely useful if the pilot job market is weak when you qualify – options!”
Pilot selection & assessment. Most flight training schools will put you through some form of assessment prior to enrolling on their courses. This is to give them an indication of the likelihood of you being successful with your flying trainman and beyond, before you invest what could be over £100,000 into your training. training schools will also want to make sure that you are suited to a career as a pilot before they invest so much training in you. Most of these Approved Training Organisations (ATOs – for a full list, see the CAA website) will have their own assessment process, but the methodology is usually very similar. They will want to assess your aptitude, personality and competencies in a range of areas including computer based tests, an interview and sometimes a group exercise. Do not assume that you will breeze through these types of assessment just because you are paying for your own training. These flight schools work closely with airlines and they want to ensure that the quality of their student output is high. You should treat this assessment as seriously as any interview process. We would strongly recommend you getting some Flight School Assessment Preparation ahead of any assessment. If you’d like to check your readiness for one of these assessments, or just want to find out if you have what it takes, then why not have a mock assessment with some feedback?
“We would strongly recommend you getting some Flight School Assessment Preparation ahead of any assessment.”
What other qualifications will I require?
On completion of all of your flying training, you will be required to complete a Multi-Crew Cooperation Course (MCC) and Advanced Upset Recovery Training (UPRT) course before you can work as a commercial pilot in a multi-crew environment. Some of the integrated schools will complete this training in house, but you can find lots of course providers out there such as CRM Aviation Europe Ltd and Ultimate High. Some MCC courses can also be combines with a Jet Orientation Course (JOC) or Airline Professional Standards Course (APS) with companies like Simtech and Virtual Aviation. Neither the JOC, nor APS are mandated and you should carefully consider whether you need to complete one of these courses before spending the additional money – especially in the case of an APS course.
Getting a type-rating! Once you have your “frozen” ATPL, you will still need to complete a total of 1500 hours flying before you “unfreeze” your ATPL. You will most likely gain these hours on a commercial aircraft such as a Boeing 737 or Airbus A320. In order to fly one of these “types”, you will require a Type-Rating (TR). Most airlines will pay for this training (although not all) which can cost in the region of £20,000-£30,000! For this reason, you will usually be “bonded” to that airline for a minimum amount of time before you can leave. Bonding periods are usually around 3 years and if you leave the airline before you have worked your bond, then you will usually have to pay all, or a proportion of it back.
For more information and answers to your pilot questions, why not visit our FAQ page.